Friday, October 8, 2010

Customer Service

This morning on my way to work I stopped to fill up my tank, and I noticed for the umpteenth time that approximately half the pumps at the gas station were out of order. And I started to think about how the quality of service in general continues to decline in many industries, and how pissed off I am about it, and what I intend to do about it.

The gas station scenario is a common one for me; either the pumps are down or the receipt printer is out of paper or the credit card reader is malfunctioning or there's no fluid to clean your windshield with. Remember when the attendants used to come out and clean your windshield for you? Now they can't even be bothered to fill up the fucking bucket a couple of times a day. And yet the prices still continue to creep up, including the extra fees they tack on for using a credit card, which many people don't even realize they're paying.

Gas stations are merely one example, but I think they're a reasonable indicator of the decline in customer service at large. And the fact is, we do not have to put up with this. There are many entities out there competing for our money, and starting today I'm going to be a lot more vigilant about where and how I spend mine. These are some of the things that are important to me:
  • I expect a business to be neat and tidy, well stocked, and fully functioning when I arrive. Any place of business that does not consistently meet this standard will never get my business again. I can overlook a rare occurrence, but if every other time I show up I can't get what I need or the place is a disorganized mess, it's over. If it means going out of my way or paying slightly more somewhere else, I'm prepared to do so. 

  • Poor customer service will not be tolerated, ever. I don't care how good the food is at a restaurant, how cute the clothes are, or how low the airfare is, if I'm treated poorly I will never patronise that business again. I expect salespeople and servers to be courteous, to do their utmost to make me happy if there's a problem, and to thank me for my business. I expect returns to be made under reasonable circumstances and not to be unfairly charged for things that are not my fault.

  • I expect people to be knowledgeable about the things they sell or the services they offer. If I hop into a cab, I expect the driver to know how to get to my destination without me having to explain it in detail, or they're not getting a tip. If I'm shopping for wine, I expect the merchant to be able to give me some recommendations based on my tastes, or else I'll shop somewhere else. 

  • If I feel I've been treated unfairly I resolve to write to the company or contact a manager and at the very least communicate my dissatisfaction. I have let far too many things slide in the past and have not taken companies to task when I really should have. Hardly anyone ever takes the time to really follow up on a complaint, but it can make a huge difference if the right person hears your message. Someday I should tell you the story of the shameful way my financial institution treated me when I had my wallet stolen in Rome; I still kick myself for not writing that letter as soon as I got back. The bitch blamed ME for getting pickpocketed, if you can believe it.

  • Wherever possible I want to try to deal with smaller, independent businesses where the customer still has influence. With our Etsy shop, Mark and I work really hard to make sure each and every person is taken care of, and I want to do business with other like-minded people. And sure, just because a business is large doesn't mean they don't care about the customer, but I think among smaller businesses you're more likely to find a level of commitment to customer satisfaction that can be difficult to maintain as a business grows. From here on out the smaller boutiques, the sellers on Etsy, and of course the businesses that have treated me well in the past will be my first stop when I'm shopping for something.
What are your thoughts about the quality of customer service in general? Have you ever written to a company with a complaint, and what was the outcome? What have you put up with that you wish you hadn't? In what other ways can we take a stand and demand more for our money?

Today's outfit:
Dress: thrifted
Skirt: unknown
Belt: Urban Outfitters
Shoes: Camper


Lisa said...

Ditto ALL that! Complaining is a good thing for everyone. For a business owner who wants to improve they like complaints so they know HOW to improve. If you feel shy about it just remember that you are helping good businesses get better.

I believe that bad customer service is a result of paying employees badly. Everytime I got into Trader Joe's I come out smiling; they are paid well and get health insurance, and it shows in how they do their jobs and treat customers. Kinko's, on the other hand, must treat their employees like dogs. Their customer service is some of the crappiest here in NYC and that is saying a lot.

et said...

First of all, cute outfit!

Customer service - re gas stations, I hate it when the sponges on the windshield cleaner wands are falling apart or filthy, and the fluid stinks.

I don't say I'd 'never' go someplace again, but I definitely wait a good long while before giving them another chance.

I have had great experiences overall with online shopping, and get usually get satisfactory results if I have a complaint. The only unsatisfactory response that comes to mind (online or in person) was regarding a hotel stay - booked online directly with the hotel chain WAY in advance to get the best online deal: upon arrival the hotel was under extensive remodeling & reconstruction + the breakfast buffet was an extra charge, not free which was not clearly stated. No lobby (the photos online were one reason I had picked that hotel as we were staying with family there & wanted a place to sit & talk), pool/gym shut down, noise & inconvenient access due to the work being done. No response at all when I complained (after we returned home). They obviously knew ahead of time this would be going on at the time we planned to stay.

Meadow Walk said...

A great time to read this post. Since last night I have been really beating myself up over being short with these 2 young girls who were working the desk at my school library. I was just so IRRITATED with the whole deer in the headlights "duh!?" look that I get when I ask for anything beyond "where are the bathrooms?" Since I am getting my Masters in Library Science and used to work in customer service I know how it should be done, and when they just act so brain dead I want to slap them.

So now I feel better bc I did not give them a piece of my mind, instead of badly, since they could probably tell I was irritated with them.

(Sadly I don't have the option of using another library!)

Tina said...

I won't go to Best Buy for the reasons you listed. I am tired of getting treated like shit and wrote them a letter. I got no response.

Maura said...

Love the outfit!

Last week I was treated very badly by airport security. I haven't flown in years, so I got in the Airport Security For Dummies line, and one jackass at security was still rude to me when I had a question. When I called him on his attitude, he said "I'm not going to talk to you" and stalked off. O_o It was downhill from there.

I'm convinced he acts that way because he can get away with it. People in his position have no motivation to treat us well, because we don't have a realistic way to take our business elsewhere. I have no alternative but to work with these people. The only way to boycott airport security is to never fly.

Colleen said...

When my daughter was about four months old, I hit a major wall where shopping was concerned: money is tight, time is short, and I don't need to spend either in a place that makes me miserable. My family sometimes teases me about it, but there are a number of stores and restaurants (mostly chains) that are "on my list," and where I refuse to do business. If I feel a merchant could improve one or two small things to make my shopping experience a pleasant one and bring me back to the store, I do write a letter. I also try to write a note when I receive exemplary service. Unfortunately, the latter are becoming more and more infrequent. :(

Carmen said...

Here, here! One struggle we have living in a small town in the Midwest is that so many large companies have moved in near us that the small businesses have dwindled making online shopping A real nessecity to get good service and quality ar prices we can afford.

Not sure if ther are any other Midwesterners out ther but if u are ever traveling and see a Quick Trip gas station, you will almost always get great service and clean bathrooms. I have even been known to pick up a sandwich at one. Plus he clerks are paid a living wage and it SHOWS. They are adults who have made this their career and take pride in their jobs. They are fast, efficient, and friendly.

Carmen said...

Sorry about typos... On iPod!!

Susan B said...

Yes!!! I think this is a powerful manifesto. One of my pet peeves is when sales staff are not knowledgeable about their products.

Hannah said...

I'm in favor of all you say. I would, however, add in letting those who go above and beyond (and their managers) know how much you appreciate them.

Healthy and Homemade said...

Seriously all I can say about this . . . freakin awesome legs Audi!!

Healthy and Homemade said...

In terms of the customer service, I'm the same way. Maybe it's because I can hold a grudge far too easily, but being treated like crap does not make a business worthy of getting my money. I guess that's why I like online shopping? The internet is always in a good mood and pretty much fully stocked =P

Jean said...

You're speaking my language Audi, I have always expected good customer service and have complained on many, many occasions over the years. In return I've received apologies, vouchers, gifts, discounts - which are all nice, but what I really want is to know that they will do something about their lousy service.

In the UK we have always held American customer service is high esteem - Americans seem to enjoy a much better standard of customer service with the UK lagging far behind, although things are improving here. I always tell people not to complain to their friends about bad service, but take it to the person who can/should do something about it.

fröken lila said...

when i moved to norway (coming from germany and sweden) this year, i was shocked to realize how bad customer service is here. it is horrid. honestly. i had a few bad experiences earlier on my visits here, but sincemy move i experience bad service all the time. also, it shows that at places where swedes are emploied, service is much better than at places with only norwegians. and i am sorry to say it. it just seems like a whole country doesn't care how they are treated. or if they care, they can't be bothered to complain. in scandinavia, somplaining is a bad thing. so actually, whenever i say i'm not happy with the service, people try and make me feel like it's MY fault because i dare to complain. and it pisses me off, really.

Phyllis said...

Well for me me it depends on the merchant. If I'm shopping at an upscale retailer and the service is bad I'll let them know about it while I'm there, but for simple transactions I just let it go. Working with the public is really difficult, a good friend of mine runs a successful on-line business and you would not believe the outrageous demands and complaints she gets from "customers" with a sense of entitlement over things they have no right to complain about.

Kimberly said...

Oooh-weee!! I love the double polka dots!!

Northmoon said...

I've been supporting my small neighbourhood businesses whenever possible for years. Ditto unique on-line merchants.

If we only shop big box because we 'save money' pretty soon there will be no choice and they will treat the customer like crap because the dollar is all that matters.

erin e flynn said...

While I agree that poor customer service is obnoxious, and I will leave or complain if I think the staff is rude or I really can't get any help... I think a lot of people walk all over employees.

Having worked several customer service jobs, I have been yelled at for things that are not my fault and I have no control over. It's one thing to have a complaint or make a suggestion, those are great as they help businesses improve, but we rarely ever got those. Mostly we got people screaming at us because we only brewed Starbucks coffee and weren't a full Starbucks, so the fact that we couldn't make their specific drink because we lacked X-ingredient meant they had the right to yell or even throw bagels at us (yes, really).
Put up with enough of that and you lose all enthusiasm for providing great service.

I actually wrote a post about customer service here:

Now, I'm not saying you're wrong at all to expect great service, so please don't take this comment that way. We all want great service. I just think that some people don't know the right way to go about getting it, and because they yell/throw bagels/whatever they just end up making the service somewhere worse and worse because the employees are tired of being treated like shit.

Tina said...

Eef and Phyllis--you made some good points. I am a college professor and schools are now adopting the business model i.e. the student as customer. It is ridiculous how people behave--such a sense of entitlement.

Audi said...

Lisa: I definitely agree that pay has something to do with it, although sadly there's a lot of evidence suggesting that if someone doesn't give a shit about their job for $5 an hour, they're not likely to care any more even for $50 an hour. Some people are meant to be in the service industry and some are not. But the kind of business that offers a good wage and benefits is probably much more discerning in who they hire, and I think that's the biggest difference. They're likely to have better training for their managers, have a professional HR department, and have a fair process both for disciplining employees and for rewarding them. Businesses that only want cheap labor will accept any warm body who's willing to settle for the crummy pay.

Maura: You're certainly not the only one to have a bad experience with airport security. They're a real problem because they're not selling anything, so you have zero leverage as a customer. They're one of the worst aspects of flying.

Hannah: Yes! I should've added in my post that when I receive good service I'm a very generous tipper and am quick to offer praise. In fact I consider myself a very pleasant customer to work with, which is why I get doubly pissed off when I'm treated like crap.

Phyllis: You're absolutely right that customers can make unreasonable demands; Mark and I have certainly had it happen to us. But when you offer something for sale, you sort of have to take the bad with the good if you want to make money. The vast majority of our customers have been wonderful to deal with and have been generous in their feedback and with helping spread the word about our business. For the sake of attracting more people like them, I'll gladly put up with the occasional person who demands that we remake an item even though the measurements they provided were wrong, or something unreasonable like that. It just goes with the territory, and I'd rather maintain our good reputation than risk negative feedback because we chose to fight a battle that in the end isn't really worth winning.

eef: That's a great point, and in fact I've witnessed behavior like that myself. Just because someone works behind a counter doesn't give people license to abuse them. When I see that happen I usually make a point to express my sympathy to the worker, so they at least know other customers are on their side.

Eliza said...

I have a theory I call spotty teenager syndrome where half a large companies customer service problems are caused by young, inexperienced and sometimes down right moronic staff.

shams said...

This has to be one of my favorite outfits ever. :)

Gina said...

As a store sales person, I don't think it's unreasonable to expect customers to not treat me as if I'm a slave, or a complete idiot because I have a retail job.

I am not invisible, and using your mobile phone while checking out is extremely rude and dismissive to me -- and to the customers behind you.

If there is a 30-day return policy, do not expect a full refund of your purchase if you are returning items after six months. I know you took those sunglasses and linen trousers (which are minus the tags) on vacation in June or July, and you are trying to return them in October.

Similarly, you need not leave unpurchased clothing strewn or bundled on the fitting room floor. You need not yank the bottom sweater from a neatly folded pile. I am there to help, and part of that included getting the size you need for you. Ask me for help.

When a sales person is helpful and says thank you, take a moment to write or phone customer service. We are assessed on good comments (which are far more rare) as much as on the negative comments.

tinyjunco said...

yeah...when a person has spent years working 60-80 hour weeks, with constantly changing schedules, co-workers, and ridiculous corporate demands (for crummy pay, no less) even the nicest can get worn down to not being so 'pumped' about providing excellent customer service.

i've lived in Walnut Creek, CA the last ten years....many of the people here have an outlandish sense of entitlement as customers. the lab where i get blood drawn every other week recently instituted an 'online appt' policy (it had been strictly first come, first serve until then). i asked the phlebotomist how it's been going. people with appts at 8:10am waltz on back to the draw station at 8:32am, demanding she yank the needle out of the patient's arm and start attending to THEM since they had an appt. honestly....the phleb is great, tho, and sends them scurrying. in her words, 'if it is so important maybe you should have been here at 8:10..'

6:00pm Friday nite at Safeway the natives get restless and start complaining loudly when there is more than one person in front of them in line. i just tell them that they are really spoiled ( in a very nice way).

excellent customer service demands resources and commitment. sadly many corporations want to put everything possible towards shareholders these days, which can make it very difficult for even the most dedicated employee to provide the service they know they's a shame.

Secret Squirrel said...

I worked in retail for 3 years full-time and had to leave due to the incredible rudeness of some customers (and my inability to not say something back!). Now with my current job, the relationship is more 'equal' (I follow a strict code of conduct but they want funding from my organization). However, I loved, in my previous role, being able to find people exactly what they wanted - a gift, the right furniture etc. And polite, friendly people got excellent service from me. I saw it as karma. This week, in a shoe store I frequently browse in, a shop assistant went above the call of duty to get me shoes in my size. I made sure she knew how happy I was, and I'll be emailing the head office on Monday.

MJ said...

I completely agree about the lack of customer service these days. 2 incidents stick out in my mind:

-My husband & I visit a lot of Ren Faires. We also buy a few pieces of 'garb' every year. Last year I was in the market for a bodice/corset. I went to a small shop I had looked at several times but never gone in. I was dressed up (AKA 'garbed up') & obviously looking to buy. The salesperson ignored me. I completely realize that many Ren Faire shops have only 1-2 people working in the shop so I knew I might have to wait. But there was no 'Hello', no 'I'll be with you in a minute'; nothing.
I did write a letter to the owner & did receive a response but I cannot go back in that shop & I will recommend another corset/bodice vendor if asked (& I am frequently asked where I get my bodices).
-The 2nd incident happened to a friend while we were in Turkey with a travel group. Because they didn't tell her all the steps she needed to go through to make sure her card worked in Turkey it got locked. When she called customer service the gal suggested she go to their closest location in GREECE! Friend then asked how she was suppose to get from Turkey to Greece. She promptly cancelled her account with them when we got back in the states.

Jen said...

I once had a horrible experience at Outback Steakhouse. It was a long story, but it culminated in the manager coming to our table, unrequested, to lecture us on how we were wrong about the way we had requested our steak to be cooked. We had requested medium, and we received rare. There's a huge, very obvious difference between medium and rare, but according to him the barely cooked, still very red and cool in the center steak we had received was, in fact, medium. All we asked was for them to take that exact same steak back and cook it just a little longer. They returned it to us while the manager was there and it was way over cooked, to the point of being inedible. The manager very smugly told us "That's what happens when you send them back to be recooked". At that point we settled our bill for the salads and drinks we had already consumed, left the waitress a tip, because none of it was her fault, and left.

I was so mad at the way the manager had treated us that I got home and found a way to contact their corporate department. I wrote a short, polite, concise account of what happened, and told them that I felt they needed to know in this case because it was the manager behaving that way. Within three business days, I had a phone call from the owner of the store, to apologize profusely for the problems we had. I would have been happy with that, but he insisted on sending us a giftcard, and asked that if we chose to use it at his location, that we please ask for him so he could personally make sure we were taken care of. I was astonished, and thanked him, and promised we would do so. Then the next day, to my shock, a box from a local gourmet baker turned up at the house. When I opened it, it was full of these awesome, fancy brownies, and a card from Outback's corporate office. Needless to say, I was stunned by their response, and when we used the giftcard, the owner did exactly what he said, and oversaw our service personally.

Ordinarily, if I need to voice a complaint at a business, I go no further than the manager. But when the manager themselves is the problem, or compounds the problem, going to corporate can be an effective tool. I don't ever expect to get a response like that from a corporate office again, but it sure made me partial to Outback, so their efforts weren't wasted in the slightest.

i_b_erin said...

As someone who has been in retail for over 25+ years, I also am particular about my service.

And, being on that end,if I dont know the answer, I will tell a customer I dont with grace, and tell them I will find out the answer for them. Its simple good manners. (which a lot of people have NO clue what that is)

Love the polka dots together!! Running to closet to copy.....

Julia said...

I have had the worst time with a particular phone/internet/tv service these last couple months. I have written letters to several people and addresses. Anyone have any luck with the Better Business Bureau? I am close to canceling, but would like to give them a chance to reconcile the issue.

Additionally, for good service, I will find comment cards or go online to place positive comments. I once had a lot of problems with picking up a package at the post office, but one of the workers was tremendously helpful. She worked past 6 pm in calling me on the phone to track down a missing box. I had her name, and left a comment praising her hard work, kindness, and patience in helping me out. I'm not sure if it ever reached anyone, but I tried.

motherlovin3 said...

I have started to value myself and my money more. I use to let poor customer service slide. If I went to a place and the service was poor, I'd still tip because I felt bad that they were paid so poorly. Now I am not afraid to not tip. In stores, I usually don't complain. Recently I sent a complaint to Famous Footwear. I love their prices and selection but I cannot stand the poor attitude of the sales people. There are stories that I refuse to shop at like Kohl's. My daughter and I were there one night. She had an accident in her pants. I asked for a bag so I could carry the soiled clothes to the car. The manager said "we don't give out bags because people use them to steal". I understand that people to steal however I don't so if you must lump me into a group then you really don't appreciate my business. I really hate when there is a store that you really like but the customer service is bad. I sometimes feel that way about Old Navy and Children's Place but I am not sure that I would totally quit shopping there. This was a good post Audi!

Anonymous said...

I understand--I really do--the feelings people are expressing and I certainly make such "never going there again" calls, myself. However, one word really missing--methinks--from this conversation is: capitalism. The people behind the counter at the airport, in the office at the gas station, re-folding the jeans in the mall: these people have nothing to sell but their labor power and by and large they aren't too happy about doing it. In your shop, Audi, you and Mark are selling things you make; you're artisans, you control your labor.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not calling for armed revolution. But I am pointing out that differences in "service" may have less to do with the individuals involved than they do with the social structures within which said individuals function.

Lisa said...

Nice outfit. I like dots!

My BIGGEST pet peeve about customer service is when you hand them cash, check or credit card to pay and they can't be bothered to give you a thank you. There are many reasons why someone couldn't answer a question about merchandise, but none what so ever for not saying thank you.

Tamara said...

The ridiculous incident we had the last time we visited the De Young Museum, when they had the Impressionist from Musee d'Orsay... I went there with my 2 daughters (2 and 5), my Mom and her friend. I saw about half of the exhibition and had to get out, because the 2-year old in my arms obviously wasn't too interested. We sat way outside the exhibition, in front of the coat check, and I gave my little one some snacks. All the people around us, including the personnel, smiled at us and made faces to the baby. Then, after the rest of my party exited the exhibition, I left the little one with them with a piece of apple in her hand and went in to see the rest of the paintings. When I got out my Mom, with a puzzled expression on her face told me, that few minutes before a man came to them and began to yell that eating was prohibited at this spot and to demand that the little one would drop her apple immediately. My Mom asked politely if the baby could just finish the morsel in her hand, and at this point the man got really mad and actually grabbed the apple out of the baby's hand! Luckily, she was too overwhelmed to start screaming. My Mom wanted to find a manager and complain about the incident, but frankly, I had no energy for that. I admire you for your commitment to principle in these matters; I shamefully admit that I usually prefer to forget about the incident and move on.

Jane said...

I have to agree with Anonymous. I too hate bad service, and I will complain to managers, but I try to consider the circumstances. Most of the jobs we're talking about here truly suck. Low pay, no benefits, no training, untrained supervisors, long hours, constantly changing schedules, no job security, and most importantly, the employees have no control over their own lives. They're plain-out desperate for the money, and if they quit, they'll be homeless in a month. Having worked in retail and in food service (years ago, thankfully), I can tell you that truly nice and gracious customers are rare, maybe 10%. Probably 40% are outright rude, and the rest either kind and indifferent, or surly and indifferent. Even if you're one of the 10% (and I'm sure you all are), try to consider that the person helping you has probably been putting up with insults, condescension, and misplaced anger for eight hours.

Personally, I've been dealing with health care issues for some time, and that's put me on the phone with state employees for many, many hours. The person on the other end of the phone is almost always clueless (not hir fault) and I've gotten the wrong information more than once (usually not hir fault; they've had little training). I get infuriated sometimes. But after I hang up, I always remember how terrible their jobs are, and how I would never, ever want to do them.

I'm not saying that you should always put up with crappy attitudes, and certainly, stores or chains that encourage such attitudes -- often by treating their employees badly -- should be avoided when possible. But I think there is no such thing as too much compassion in the world.

Eyeliah said...

I always try to be careful where I spend my money and who I give my business to. I find the customer service far higher at my favorite local businesses than large corporations any day. My biggest pet peeve is when the customer service don’t look me in the eye when I’m looking at them to say ‘hello’ or ‘thank you’ at the beginning or end of a transaction. That really tells the customer they don’t care about their job. I am more likely to call in a complaint or speak to a manager straight away, but I still don’t do this as often as I should, I tend to just take my business elsewhere.

Small Business Answering service said...

Customer service is about giving customers what they want or perhaps it’s about satisfying customers some times they will say that it is about making customers happy. Anyways, thanks for sharing this post! I enjoyed reading it..